On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that more than half of Americans are at risk of water, power, or gas shutoffs as unpaid utility bills pile up from the economic crisis — and emergency protections put in place by states begin to lapse.
“At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many states acted quickly to ensure their residents would not lose their power or other utilities if their jobs or wages were slashed,” reported Tony Romm. “Now, however, only 21 states and the District of Columbia still have such disconnection bans in place. That leaves roughly 179 million Americans at risk of losing service even as the economy continues sputtering, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which is tracking the moratoria. Millions more in nine other states are set to lose their protections starting Thursday and throughout the fall, the group found.”
“Americans nationwide also appear to be racking up massive unpaid bills in the process,” continued the report. “Electric and gas debts alone threaten to reach or exceed $24.3 billion by the end of the year, according to a new NEADA analysis, released Thursday, based on roughly two dozen’ states regulatory filings. In some cases, the delinquencies appear to be severe. In Indiana, for example, more than 112,000 households are behind 120 days or more on their power bills, a Washington Post analysis of the largest local energy companies’ records found. The debt, totaling millions of dollars, is four times greater than the arrears accrued during the same period in 2019, the data shows.”
“The torrent of missed electric, water and gas payments underscores the severe cash crunch that continues to plague Americans nearly seven months after the deadly coronavirus sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin,” said the report. “Nationally, nearly one-third of adults still say they face difficulty meeting their regular household expenses, according to the most recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. That dour figure is compounded by the fact that 837,000 new workers filed for unemployment assistance last week, the U.S. government reported Thursday.”
Data from companies in many key states paint a grim picture.
“In Wisconsin, residents fell behind on their electricity bills in August: An average of three in 10 customers at five electric and gas utilities missed payments, totaling $235 million in arrears, state records show,” said the report. Meanwhile, “More than 68,000 Nevada residents and small businesses were behind on their payments last month, the Nevada Power Company recently told regulators, and half are past due by more than 90 days.”
Already, the shutoffs are beginning, with horrible consequences for some people.
“This Tuesday marked 67 days of darkness for Kenneth Parson. He fell behind on his utility bills in the spring — and his lights went off, and stayed off, starting at the end of July,” said the report. “No power meant no refrigerator, so Parson, a 62-year-old with diabetes in Griffin, Ga., had no choice but to store his temperature-sensitive insulin on ice in a small cooler. He didn’t have an easy way to cook at home, either, so his wife, Cheryl, took to preparing some meals for him in a neighbor’s kitchen.”
Lawmakers in Washington have spent months trying to craft a second round of stimulus, which could give millions of people the relief they need to pay these bills. However, Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have wildly different terms for the bill, making a deal hard to reach.
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